Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lek Therapy

After too many weeks of way too much snow, too much time in a car, too many miles on the road, too much time in front of a computer, and too much time away from home, I was able to spend a few glorious spring days at home last weekend. The weather was perfect - little to no wind and clear skies. Perfect for watching grouse early in the morning so on Friday night Benton, Addie and I headed out to a nearby Greater Sage-Grouse lek to set up the blind in preparation for an early morning on Saturday.

My helpers.

The little dark spot in the photo is my blind at the edge of the lek. The next morning just as dawn was gracing the clear star-filled sky, I pulled off the main road and began my hike to the blind in the dark. As I was walking in I heard my first Mountain Plover of the year call from somewhere to the west of my route. I arrived at the blind and got set up and I could hear the birds displaying to the left and right of the blind. But nothing in front.

As the horizon began to get lighter, I still couldn't find a bird in front of the blind. Just as it was getting light however the females began to show up on the lek and the birds coalesced around the hens in front of me.

As the hens moved through the lek, the display activities really picked up.

The displaying continued and the usual fights broke out here and there.

There were about 30 males on this lek but it was hard to get a good count with my limited field of view.

It was a spectacular morning and just what I needed.

One of my friends called this "Godzilla in a feather boa"

Friday, April 8, 2011

Migration in Montana

It started mid afternoon on Thursday. Laura and I were returning to Fort Peck from Billings when I noticed the first flock of Sandhill Cranes push north up the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Lake. We pulled over so we could listen as they passed overhead, heading north west towards the town of Fort Peck. When we got close to Fort Peck I could see a flock heading right over town. We called my Dad to let him know but no one answered the phone. "Must be out on the porch watching the cranes already" Laura said. And sure enough there he was when we pulled up. He told us they had been streaming over for most of the afternoon.

As we watched I noticed a few Red-tailed Hawks at the edge of the crane flock. And then there were a few more. And more. And MORE.

This photo is all Red-tailed Hawks. It just one portion of this group of birds and there were a number of groups like this. There were probably at least a thousand birds that passed overhead in about an hour, although it was tough to count because they were high in the air, scattered, and moving around in twirling kettles as they took advantage of the winds from the southeast. In that short time we also observed one Cooper's Hawk, a Prairie Falcon, four American White Pelicans, a number of Northern Harriers and one Long-billed Curlew. It was spectacular. Everywhere I looked there were groups of hawk twirling north.

Occasionally a bird would come over quite low. The overcast clouds produced light that was not very good for taking photos. I wound up with lots of silhouette photos and found out just how dirty the sensor on my camera is again.